Prolific alternative variety producers Chalmers Wines have released their first wines made from their low-intervention bush block.
The vineyard features Negroamaro and Inzolia bush vines that are not supported by trellises or irrigation, instead watered only by a small number of overhead sprinklers to mimic rainfall in drought-like conditions.
The experimental vineyard, located at Merbein in north-west Victoria and planted in 2017, was once a commercial orange orchard, abandoned and left unirrigated for several years.
The Inzolia and Negroamaro are grown using the alberello (little tree) pruning system and vine establishment, an ancient growing method popular in coastal areas of the Mediterranean.
Chalmers vineyard manager Kim Chalmers said the viticultural team had been toying with the vines and finding the best ways to work with them.
“We try to work to two bunches a shoot and usually there are 6-8 shoots per vine. Sometimes more on Inzolia than Negroamaro,” she said.
“So we bunch thin once at flowering and then do another pass again at veraison to decongest any cluttered bunches, especially on the inside of the vine.
“Negroamaro usually has big berries and large bunches but in this style of growing they are much smaller providing much more concentrated flavours. At 1600 vines per hectare planting density, we’ve found the Negroamaro performs best at a yield of between 3.5-4 tonnes per hectare.
“The Inzolia has much bigger bunches and generally yields more like 5-7 Tonnes per hectare even after thinning.
“We never would have thought we would still need to physically restrict the yield so much when the vines only receive as little as 300mm of combined rainfall and irrigation per annum in total.”
The Inzolia was harvested in 2021. During the growing season from July 2020 to June 2021 the bush-vine block saw 234mm of natural rainfall and received 159mm of irrigated top-up for a total water consumption of just 393mm.
The Negroamaro is fruit of the 2019-20 growing season. Between July 2019 and June 2020, the bush-vine block saw 152mm of natural rainfall and received 153mm of irrigated top-up for a total water consumption of just 305mm.
“Even with such low inputs our bush vine block still flourishes and requires careful pruning and canopy management,” Chalmers said.
“Vines are generally set up with three arms and only a few spurs to grow canes. As these canes grow they are loosely tied up onto the stake and internally facing shoots removed to keep the vine open.
“This year they even required a trim at the top. Amazing what vigour the combination of 110 Richter rootstock and vigorous varieties like Inzolia and Negroamaro can achieve in dry conditions.”
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